Whose You Are (or, Here We Go ‘Round the Mulberry Bushman)

321px-illustration_morus_nigra0I am a Christian. I can state this because I believe in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.

I am a husband, dad, son, brother, nephew, uncle…  I can state this because I have a beautiful wife (25 years together and going strong!), a son, a brother, aunts and uncles, nephews and a niece…

I am a Hoosier.  I can state this because I am from Indiana.  (Go Colts!)

I am of English, Scottish, Irish, German, French, Spanish and Italian heritage.  I can state this because I have done genealogy research on my family tree and have found ancestors from these countries.

I am a writer.  I can state this because I write.  (I make no claims as to the quality of my writing, but…)

I am a mulberry bush.  I can state this because… well… um… ok, I can’t state this.

Not honestly.

Not with a straight face.


Because – obviously – I am not a plant of any kind.  I am a human.  I may claim to be a mulberry bush, but I cannot actually be and not be a mulberry bush at the same time.  I have flesh and blood.  I have a brain, heart, fingers and toes… I stand upright.  I do not have roots (literally, not metaphorically).  I do not sprout leaves.  I do not produces mulberries.

This illustrates the litmus test for defining truth: either it is what it is, or it isn’t.  No room for gray areas.  No use for obfuscation.  Even if I grabbed a bottle of glue and adhered branches, leaves and berries to my body, you would look at me and say – with great reliance in the knowledge you are speaking the truth, I might add – “This is not a mulberry bush.  This is a human – and a very silly one at that – trying to pass himself off as a mulberry bush.  That’s not sap on his branches.  It’s Super Glue.”

It can be tough to truly define who we are.  We look at our careers for our identities.  We look to our heritage, our families, our abilities, our successes, our failures… all in a vain attempt to discover who we really are.

You are a firefighter until the day you stop going to the station putting out fires and making rescues.

You are an artist until you let your self-doubt take over and you bury the talent your fear took from you.

You are a proud descendant of both William “Braveheart” Wallace and the di Medicis until you discover the genealogy info you found on the internet was more fiction than fact.  (It’s sobering to find out you’re not directly related the man who bankrolled Michelangelo and hung out with da Vinci.  Rather, descended from “Stinky” di Medici, assistant to the assistant night manager of the Exxon Mini-Mart outside of Palermo.)

If you want to discover who you really, truly are, don’t look inward.

Look upward.

You see, God is the author of absolute truth.  He is also the author of the Bible, Hs revelation to humanity of Who He is, and who we are.

And who are we?  We are His children:

But to all who did receive (Jesus), who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:12-13 (ESV)

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. – 1 John 3:1 (ESV)

In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. – Ephesians 1:5-10 (ESV)

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. – Romans 8:14-17 (ESV)

Here is the God’s honest, absolute truth: who you are is not defined by what you do, or what you’ve done, or where your talents lie, or what successes or failures you have experienced.  You are not defined by what or who anybody else claims / blames you to be. You are God’s creation:

13 For you formed my inward parts;
    you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
    my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
    the days that were formed for me,
    when as yet there was none of them. – Psalm 139:13-16 (ESV)

You are God’s child – an heir to His great and wondrous promises.

You are not defined by anything on this earth.  You are who God made you to be.  You belong to the Lord.  Your life is in His more than capable, loving, gracious hands.

You are God’s child.  And whose you are is far more important than who you – or anyone else – thinks you are.  In Christ we find our true identity.  Forgiven, blessed and loved.  Worthy and rich in the Lord’s promises.

Rest in that knowledge.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a mulberry bush to prune.

Twisted Reasoning (or, Friar Salty and the Folded Arms)

There are many times I find I am my own worst enemy.  I have a tendency to overthink everything: every problem, every plan, every idea, every moment… 

Let me use a simple food analogy.

My thoughts start out as an unbaked breadstick.

Simple.  Unadorned.  Doughy.

Then I begin thinking.  And mulling.  And rolling the thought over in my brain.

Soon I begin doubting.  I could never do his.  I can’t possibly write that.  There’s no sense in trying to do ___________ (fill in the blank).

My doubt and fear and anxiety begin twisting my breadstick thoughts around until I have a knotted up pretzel.

And I decide to give up on whatever grand idea I have.  After all, what if I fail?

But… just as I am ready to toss my half-baked thoughts in the trash (or, worse yet, let them sit and rot as the anxiety turns to worry, the doubt gives way to depression for yet another unrealized notion), I remember the legend behind the invention of the pretzel.

The story goes that, some 800-900 years ago, a monk wanted to reward local children for learning their prayers.  He came up with the simple idea of rolling dough into cylinders and twisting them into a shape resembling a child’s arms folded in prayer.  These pretzels were then given to the kids who could recite their Our Fathers and Hail Marys.

Thinking about it, we can make pretzels without tying ourselves up in knots of doubt and anxiety.  Indeed, pretzels can be a wonderful treat for any of us.  After all, the pretzel is far better than the breadstick.  It is more complex in form, flavor and texture.  And not nearly as bland.

The secret to the pretzel being a source of joy rather than the product of agony is found in its folded arms.  When we let doubt and fear creep in, we find our joy is stolen from us.  Which is not what the Lord intends for us.

Consider the disciples at the Last Supper.  Jesus was telling them what was about to happen.  

And His words didn’t line up with their preconceived notions.  

And, when Jesus was arrested and tried, at least zten of the twelve did the very human thing:  they reasoned out what they saw with their eyes.

And they ran for the hills.

Instead of taking Jesus at His Word – even though they had seen Him heal the sick, restore sight to the blind, feed 15,000+ people with one child’s lunch, walk on water, raise the dead – the disciples opted to go with their feelings.

And what they felt was fear.  Panic.  Anxiety.

Jesus knew all this would happen.  And He loved them anyway.  He even made sure they understood they were protected and firmly in the Lord’s grip:

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. – John 16:33 (ESV)

When we are thinking things through, we have no reason for doubt or fear.  Instead of mulling over problems or plans and twisting them ’round and ’round, we should instead consider the folded arms of the pretzel.  

Instead of worrying, pray.

Instead of drawing solely from our sorely limited bank of information, we hound seek first the Lord in prayer and His Word.

Instead of scratching our heads, we should drop to our knees.

Instead of leaning anxiously on our own understanding, we need to trust wholeheartedly in God.

Today, be bold.  Be fearless.  Do what you believe God has called you to do.  Go with God, without fear.  

Pray without ceasing.

Embrace God with your whole heart and mind.

Keep your joy.  Keep His peace.

And live the life you were created to live.

Bartering in the Age of Narcissism (or, Self-Help Guru For Sale – Will Trade For Sparrows, a Lock of Hair and a Scratchy Old 45 of “I’m ‘Enery the Eighth I Am”)

29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. – Matthew 10:29-31 (ESV)

“Historians will probably call our era ‘the age of anxiety'”, wrote the evangelist Billy Graham in 1965.  Indeed, the sixties gave the world plenty to be anxious about: the Cold War, civil rights violence, Vietnam, the space race, nuclear arms, Herman’s Hermits…

Sadly, the anxiety of the times didn’t fade away when the calendar rolled into 1970.

Or 1980.

Or the 21st century.

Indeed, today we still have plenty of opportunity for worry on the world stage: Isis, terrorism, Trump v. Clinton, the economy, North Korea, Herman’s Hermits…  Instead of rising above the anxiety of the times, I believe we have morphed into the age of anxiety fueled by narcissism.

We all have concerns.  Deeper than the fears of this world, many people feel lost, isolated, disconnected.  The internet is a wonderful tool.  But social media tends to reduce our human contact down to tiny, impersonal (or, at times, overly personal), bite-size ready-to-eat mini-messages, more concerned with letter count than content.

That’s all fine and well for mass communication.  But it’s no substitute for real, personal interaction.

When you add to the mix the busyness of our lives (kids in soccer and baseball and basketball and football and foosball and on and on and on…), there simply is not enough time for developing true relationships.

And many people feel a deep longing for relationship.  Not buddies.  Not just fellow soccer moms or co-workers.  I’m talking brothers and sisters.  People with whom we develop deep, abiding relationships.  Community.  Iron sharpening iron.

So we feel lost.  Empty.  And we look to fill this huge, gaping void.  We search for meaning, for a panacea to cover the pain of the empty pit in our souls.  Maybe a self-help guru, someone to move in and help us each develop into the best possible version of ourselves so we can be better and do even more and be more focused on self-improvement.

And the narcissism of our times rolls on.

Part of our problem is that, with everything going on – with our being lonely in a crowd, our lack of true communication and deep relationships and, worst of all, our lack of relationship and time with God – we lose our bearings.  We lose our sense of being.  We lose the importance of who we really are, who we are created to be.

And we turn ourselves inward to discover who we are, what we should do, who we should be.

And we get our heads stuck sideways in our own navels.

Do you want to understand your self worth?  Stop looking inward, and start looking upward.  Consider what Luke wrote:

6 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. 7 Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows. – Luke 12:6-7 (ESV)

Yes, this is basically the same message as our key verse at the top of this post (Matthew 10:29).  But I prefer Luke’s rendering over Matthew’s.  Luke offers a better deal: five sparrows for two cents as opposed to two birds for a penny.  I like a good deal.  And, no matter what my wife may tell you, I’m not cheap.  Just frugal.

The message here is simple: a one cent bird, the only sacrificial offering many poor Jews of Jesus’ day could afford (lambs didn’t quite figure into the average budget).  Yet God keeps such a close eye on His creation that He knows – and cares for – even this most seemingly insignificant of beings.  He knows how many hairs you have on your head.  And, even if you are pulling out hair in anxiety or frustration or fear, the Lord is still keeping an accurate count.

So consider this: how much more valuable are you in God’s eyes?  Where is your self-worth?  If you want to discover who you are, don’t look inward.

Look upward.

Join a community of fellow believers and begin to serve.  Contribute.  Love others and help others.  Seek God first in all things.  And quit putting so much focus on busyness.  In doing so, in talking time to be with God and others and humbly listening, seeking, loving, contributing, giving, doing… here you will find who you really are, who God created you to be.

Focus on God.  Focus on love.  Don’t focus on troubles.

Seek God first.  Love one another.


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